Genetically engineered (GE) crops, as any other living organism, grow and reproduce. That's why genetic contamination is a problem with the potential to multiply. A proposal in the EU aims to put the burden of controlling contamination onto farmers seeking to keep their fields GE-free.
Greenpeace marks a maize field with signs showing corn with a 'question mark' indicating that 1 in 200 maize crops can be genetically contaminated if the draft EU seed directive is passed .
Once GE crops are planted on a commercial scale, the measures to
avoid contamination can substantially increase the final cost of
conventional and organic products. The EU Joint Research Centre has
calculated an increase of costs as high as 41 percent for oilseed
rape seed production, and 9 percent for conventional maize
production in Europe.
One would think that politicians would see it as their
responsibility to prevent genetic contamination from happening.
However, this doesn't seem to be the case in the European Union
(EU). An unpublished "Communication on Co-existence," which
Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler will soon present, takes
the view that legislative action at European Community level should
Instead, the Commission's Agriculture Services considers an
approach where preventative action would be limited to coordinating
and advisory functions. They also assume that Co-existence measures
should be strictly limited to the economic aspects of genetic
contamination and propose that seeds contaminated below certain
threshold (0.3 - 0.7 percent depending on the crop) should not even
need to be labelled as genetically modified.
Only comprehensive legislation can save the purity of seeds,
ensure the survival of uncontaminated conventional and organic
farming in Europe and ensure the right of consumers and farmers to
say "no" to GE products. Clear liability regulations following the
"polluter pays" principle must ensure that extra costs are borne by
the producers and growers of GE crops responsible for the
Instead, the leaked Communication argues that the burden of
Co-existence measures "should fall on the economic operators
(farmers, seed suppliers, etc.) who intend to gain a benefit from
the specific cultivation model they have chosen." According to this
view, farmers who have an economic interest in ensuring that their
products remain GE-free, would have to pay to avoid contamination
instead of those responsible for the contamination.
We call on decision-makers in the EU to adopt clear and
effective legislation to protect the agricultural assets of Europe
and prevent genetic contamination. Failure to do so could have
severe consequences: environmental damage to farmland and
biodiversity, economic loss for conventional and organic farmers,
and higher prices for
the overwhelming majority of consumers who want to buy and eat
Communication from Fischler to the Commission on Co-existence of
Genetically Modified, Conventional and Organic Crops. (pdf)
EU study finally published: Co-existence of GE/non-GE farming